The topic of Compulsory voting is in debates again. If I’m not wrong then in recent times the topic of compulsory voting came in news when a private bill was moved by a legislator in Lok Sabha February 2016. Responding to the Bill, the then Law Minister Sadanand Gauda told the members that it’s possible for the Government to make a Law for Compulsory voting and penalizing those who don’t vote.
Last week while addressing an international conference on voter awareness in New Delhi, the Chief Election Commissioner has reiterated the Government’s stand that the idea of compulsory voting is not Practical.
It’s here good to understand that what the Chief Election Commissioner said yesterday is also the stand of the present Narendra Modi led NDA Government at Centre. That’s there’s no difference in view between the two.
Some among us may be thinking what’s wrong in calling Compulsory Voting ‘impractical’. Making Voting compulsory and punishing those who don’t vote is indeed impractical.
But things become interesting the moment you pay attention to Gujarat Local Authorities Laws Bill, 2009 providing for compulsory voting and 50 percent reservation for women in local bodies.
As can be seen the bill was brought and passed in 2009 and 2011 by BJP Government in Gujarat, when Narendra Modi was the CM. The Governor at that time, Kamla Beniwal, declined to sign the Bill. Although her reasons were also the same as given by the Modi Government today, that the bill is anti-constitutional as forcing voter to vote is against the principles of individual liberty provided by the Constitution of India. Without much thinking she was much criticized for not signing the Bill. In simple many touted her as a Congress sympathizer. The Bill was also made a part of the election agenda by the BJP during the Gujarat Assembly elections 2012 and Lok Sabha elections 2014.
The moment BJP Government came to in Centre in 2014, they brought to seat, O P Kohli. It’s important to mention here that S C Jamir had a short stint spanning just months in between Beniwal and Kohli. One of the first things O P Kohli did as Gujarat Governor was to sign (in November 2014) the controversial Gujarat Local Authorities Laws Bill 2009, which has the provisions of compulsory voting and 50 per cent reservation for women in the institutions of local self-governance.
Now we are told both by the Election Commission of India and the Modi led NDA Government at Centre that Compulsory voting is ‘impractical’, hence no one must think about Compulsory in voting at least at centre.
What is the status of the Compulsory Voting Bill in Gujarat?
Although, the Governor signed the Bill in November 2014 and the state Government is free to implement it any time after that. For some reasons the Bill has not reached the implementation stage. All we hear to this day, is: Once the Act comes into effect, Gujarat will be the first state to have the provision of compulsory voting. Meanwhile, sources in the Legislation Department said the Bill had the provision that the government would issue notification as and when it felt fit to come out with various additional provisions to implement the law, like the punishment for the voter who does not go for voting.
Uneasiness with Compulsory Voting was NOT some Liberal Imagination
Now that the Nation knows the Modi Government’s and his party’s stand on the issue of compulsory voting, the earlier opposition of compulsory voting by some well-thinking individuals will not be considered as some “liberal imagination”. The opposition was well-thought out, and was unceremoniously rejected as it was as vain as NOTA. But at that time, when everything was made to look like some Gospel truth, anyone who opposed the idea of compulsory voting was seen as nuisance creator.
But today at least some among us know — The compulsory voting was impractical then, the way it’s now.